XI. Our Responsibility (Romans 9:30–10:21)
XI. Our Responsibility (9:30–10:21)
9:30-33 Paul turns a corner as he begins to examine the other side of the equation—our responsibility. From one perspective, it was God’s sovereign will to extend grace to the Gentiles. From another perspective, though, the Gentiles have obtained righteousness because they pursued it the right way, by faith (9:30). Israel, on the other hand, failed to achieve the law of righteousness (9:31) because they did not pursue it by faith (9:32). As long as anyone pursues salvation by works, as Israel did, the grace of Jesus will act like a stumbling stone (9:32). Jesus is either the stone we trip over in our self-righteousness, or he’s the rock we build our lives upon.
10:1-2 The problem with Israel, Paul points out, is not a lack of passion. He testifies that they have zeal for God. They are dead serious. They are incredibly religious. They believe in God and think they are running God’s race. But their zeal is not according to knowledge (10:2). So, although they’re running a race, it’s the race of religion—the Jewish equivalent of going to church and trying to be a good person. Paul knew this race well, because he too had been running it for years.
10:3 There are two approaches to getting to heaven: God’s approach and yours. If we are ignorant of the righteousness of God, the automatic tendency is to establish [our] own righteousness. We’ll naturally submit to God’s way or we’ll create our own. Those are the only two choices, but they’ll lead us to very different ends.
Society may tell us there are dozens of ways to get to heaven, but in the end, there’s just one. Think of it like the game of basketball. Two guys take shots to win the game: the first guy misses the rim and backboard completely, an air ball; the second guy puts up a shot that rattles around, nearly goes in, but still misses. Which shot is of greater value? Neither. There’s a set standard for scoring (the ball must go through the hoop), and both guys missed it. The worst thing in the world is thinking that just because your ball went around the rim, spiritually speaking, it went in.
10:4 Paul calls Jesus the end of the law for righteousness, meaning he’s the termination point, the goal. In other words, the point of the law wasn’t the law; the point of the law was to point us to Jesus. And for everyone who believes, we get the record of Jesus’s perfect righteousness in our place.
10:5 We can choose to pursue our own righteousness that is from the law, of course. As Paul says, referencing Mosaic law, The one who does these things will live by them. So if you want the law to judge you, fine. Have it your way. God will judge you by the law. But it won’t be a pretty sight. God demands absolute perfection, so if you’re hoping to be justified by the law, you had better live a life without sin. And history tells us there’s only been one such life.
10:6-8 The righteousness that comes from faith (10:6) may be supernatural, but it’s not difficult or complicated. The righteousness of the law is hard, always making us wonder if we’ve done enough. It makes us ask, Who will go up to heaven? (10:6) or Who will go down into the abyss? (10:7), because we want to have some assurance from beyond the grave. But somebody has already come from heaven and somebody has already gotten up from the grave. In Jesus you have a gospel message that is as close as the person next to you, in your mouth and in your heart (10:8). It’s accessible and available for the justification of sinners and the sanctification of saints.
10:9-10 The whole book of Romans, and arguably the entire Bible, comes down to this: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. That word “confess” means “agree.” You have to agree with God about Jesus’s identity, that he’s the eternal Son of God.
The concern of this passage is not primarily establishing the conditions for justification but establishing the conditions for deliverance from temporal wrath (see 1:18, 24, 26, 28) and the consequences of sin (i.e., salvation) and for divine help that is available to all who are justified through faith in Christ. When a person believes, he receives justification. But in order to receive deliverance from temporal wrath, a believer must confess, or publicly acknowledge, the lordship of Jesus Christ and call on him for divine assistance. This is why “confess” and “believe” are flipped in 10:9-10. When a person believes, he receives God’s righteousness (i.e., he is born again). But when he publicly acknowledges identification with Christ, he receives temporal divine intervention (i.e., deliverance; see Matt 10:32-33).
10:11-13 The result of this belief, for both Jew and Greek (10:12), is that they will not be put to shame (10:11). We often think of coming to Jesus as a chance for our sins to be wiped away. And Jesus certainly does that. But he also removes our shame, delivering us in our everyday circumstances. If we call on Jesus, though the consequences may be difficult, we will never regret it. Calling on the name of the Lord for deliverance is a practice and provision for believers only (see Acts 7:59; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Pet 1:17).
10:14-15 Before a person can call on Jesus for deliverance from temporal wrath and the consequences of sin, he or she must first believe through the hearing of the gospel. Thus, the person is already a believer when calling for divine intervention.
10:16-17 Many people, of course, don’t believe even though they’ve been told about Jesus. In fact, from Isaiah’s time down to Paul’s, the normal response to the Word of the Lord is rejection. So Paul says that not all obeyed the gospel. And Isaiah goes so far as to say, Lord, who has believed our message? (10:16). The faithful will always be in the minority.
10:18 The word of God has gone out to every individual, whether they know Jesus’s name or not. The voice of God, as Paul quotes from the Psalms, has gone out to . . . the ends of the world. We call that general revelation, the idea that in the beauty and majesty of nature, people are confronted with the reality and power of God. The problem, as Paul brought up in the first chapter of Romans, is that they reject and suppress this knowledge of God. Thus, special revelation is necessary for people to be reconciled to God.
10:19-20 Paul returns to the idea of Gentile salvation here to remind his Jewish readers of God’s purpose: by extending grace to the Gentiles, who were not looking for or asking for him (10:20), God’s goal was to make Israel jealous of those who are not a nation (10:19).
10:21 Why would God want his people to be jealous? Not to mistreat them or to punish them, but to provoke them and drive them back to him. He often does the same with us. In our pain, God is not trying to pay us back as much as to bring us back. So what he says to Israel he says to us: All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and defiant people. Nobody is more heartbroken by your disobedience than God. And nobody but God will show you more patience as you return to him.